On Tuesday night, I was honoured to be the guest speaker at the monthly dinner meeting of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders (OVAR). I’ve written about that in a previous post on this blog – and you can click on the OVAR logo to read that post:
While talking with friends and OVAR members before during the pre-dinner social hour, I had a few people ask me about tips for blogging. I shared some tips – and I’ve written about this before on this blog. But I promised those with whom I spoke that I would summarize my thoughts about blogging. So here they are…
I consider this blog to be as important to my Port Rowan layout as the ties and rail and I will never start another layout without also starting a blog about it.
I started my blog in August, 2011. I had never before blogged and I had no idea what to expect. As of right now…
– I have made 1,296 posts (including this one).
– The blog has generated 7,145 comments. Of those, 2,333 are mine as I respond to the 4,812 comments from my readers (and thanks for those!)
– The blog has generated more than 715,000 page views. (It’s actually a bit more than that, because I did not track stats for the first year of blogging. I simply didn’t know I could.)
In addition to making new friends online, the value of this blog has been in its ability to generate information that helps me become a better railway modeller. For example:
– Readers have offered information about the prototype (CNR Simcoe Sub) and the area (St. Williams and Port Rowan) that I model.
– Readers have shared information about traffic sources and commodities to enhance the freight, LCL and express operations on my layout.
– Those readers who are also professional railroaders have shared information about prototype practices that have improved my operating sessions.
– Readers who know more about S scale (because I’m still relatively new to working in 1:64) have given me leads everything from small detail parts to locomotives, and from manufacturers to suppliers (whether they are distributors, retailers or individuals).
Interestingly, in a number of cases, information came my way that I did not even know I “needed”. For example, I’ve had many people become readers who are not railway modellers: They’re historians, or residents of one of the communities I model, or have another interest that overlaps something I’m doing on the layout, such as installing the working telegraphy system.
In the past, I might have had to do extensive research, including trips to archives, to find much of this information. Today, thanks to this blog, much of it has come my way – simply because I shared.
Finally, another important role for this blog is to remind me how I did something. For example, I often return to the blog to look up detail parts I used on a specific type of freight car so I can order more for another model.
I’m sometimes asked if blogging takes time away from my modelling bench. For me, I find it actually encourages me to work on projects. Having gotten into the habit of blogging, I start to miss it if I don’t – and I will pick up a project and work on it just to have something to blog about. The regular need to photograph my progress for the blog also means I’m a better modeller, because today’s digital cameras (even camera phones) show up all of the mistakes and sloppy shortcuts. When I see those in a picture, I know I have to go back and re-work what I’ve built to make it right.
If you have never written a blog, it can seem like a daunting project. It’s not. Here are some ideas – based on my own experience – to get you started.
– Make regular postings: I suggest one per week on average (and I know that I’ve been remiss at that). They don’t have to be “War and Peace” – they can be as brief as a photo and a caption. But to generate the traffic that will start paying off in terms of information gathering, regular postings are a must.
– Write about what you’ve done – not what about your thinking of doing. Unless, of course, you want every expert on the Internet to tell you what to do.
– Give newcomers a place to find their feet. Remember that readers may land on your blog at any post – rarely the first one. On this blog, I’ve included a “First Time Here?” page, into which I’ve gathered some basic information and links to key posts that describe what I’m doing in more detail. I’ve also included lots of photos of the layout on this page, so that people can see what I’m doing and assess whether they want to read more. (Not everybody will, and that’s cool!)
– I’ve also included an “About the Author” page, so people can find out who I am. It’s always more comfortable to have a conversation with somebody if you know who they are, I find. I’ve also included information about how to contact me on that page.
– Make it easy for interested readers to follow you. This blog includes a “Follow this Blog” page to describe the options. And I post the occasional reminder to my blog that new readers should check it out. (This post counts, so if you’re new to my blog – Welcome! Please have a look at how you can follow along.)
– Back up your blog. I didn’t, at first – I didn’t know I could. And then I lost the entire thing. Fortunately, a reader was able to access the XML file (the programming language that creates the blog) for my posts on his own computer and share it with me, so I was able to re-post all of the posts. But I lost many of the early comments. Blogs reside online, and the engine that drive them – such as WordPress – have an export tool that allows you save your blog to your local computer drive. Use it.
– A promising blog that hasn’t been updated in months is a sad thing to find on the Internet. I sometimes wonder if the blogger has unexpectedly passed away. So if you started a blog that you don’t intend to maintain and you read this, do your readers a favour and write a final post saying that you’ve decided to no longer maintain the blog because you’re doing other things. (The reasons are none of our businesses, but we like to know that you’re still alive.)
If you have not yet started a blog, I hope that this post will encourage you to consider doing so. I use WordPress and recommend it – I like the user interface and I think the resulting blogs look elegant. But there are other engines – such as Blogger – that may suit you better. I encourage you to look at each and then if you’re interested, register a name (it’s free to do so) and start sharing!